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Democratising the Australian Crown

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Democratising the Australian Crown — an alternative process for an Australian Republic


The ARM is effectively working to remove the Queen as Australia’s head of state, while transferring any residual responsibilities of the monarch to the Governor-General. The Governor-General will then be promoted as Australia’s head of state. The ARM has mapped out a process that includes a number of plebiscites, followed presumably by something like a Constitutional Convention, and then finally a referendum to decide upon the detailed changes to the constitution so that Australia can remove the Queen as our head of state and promote the Governor-General into the new role of head of state.

There is a stark difference between replacing the Queen with an Australian to act as Australia’s head of state while keeping the Governor-General, and simply removing the Queen and Crown from our system of government as proposed by ARM. The Crown is much more than the monarch alone. The Crown is an organising principle for sovereignty that has developed and evolved for nearly one thousand years. The Westminster system of government derives its power and authority through the Crown as its primary organising principle. Even if we were to toss the Crown aside, we would still have the task of reconstructing the powers and prerogatives of the Crown into a republican form. There is little point in reinventing the wheel.

My new model proposes a different process and pathway to an Australian republic. My proposal is to democratise the Australian Crown. The Australian Crown has been a legal reality since the Statute of Westminster 1931 was adopted by the Australian Parliament in 1942 (back-dated to take effect from the 3rd of September, 1939). Currently, Queen Elizabeth II as the Queen of Australia is the monarch for the Australian Crown, and she is hence our head of state. My proposal is to replace the Queen of Australia with periodically elected Australians to act as our head of state. The Governor-General and State Governors would continue to represent the head of state for their respective Parliaments in a republic.

The following milestones are an outline of the process for Australia to become a republic:

1.  Change the Second Covering Clause


Change the Second Covering Clause to replace the reference within the clause to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom with an affirmation of Australian sovereignty.

The Second Covering Clause in the Australian Constitution:

‘The provisions of this Act referring to the Queen shall extend to Her Majesty’s heirs and successors in the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.’


This could be changed to something like:

“The provisions of this Act referring to the Queen shall extend to Her Majesty’s heirs and successors in the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Australian States and territories.”


If this change to the second covering clause were to be successful, Queen Elizabeth II would still remain as the Queen of Australia after the change. The heirs of Queen Elizabeth II as the Queen of Australia will also be heirs to the Australian Crown. The change would merely reflect the reality of the divisible Australian Crown after the Statute of Westminster 1931.

Section 128 does not apply to the Covering Clauses of the Constitution, so we would not need to have a referendum for this change. The Commonwealth and State parliaments could, I believe, pass legislation to effect the change to one of the Covering Clauses. One requirement of the Statute of Westminster 1931 is that any changes to the succession of the Crown should obtain the consent of all the other Commonwealth Realms. I suggest that this consent be formally sought during a CHOGM meeting, as this would provide a precedent for a subsequent change for Australia into a republic with an elected head of state to replace the Queen and the monarchy.

2. Establish community and political support for a republic


Work to build a consensus in the community about the change to a republic and the form this republic should take. Some of the processes outlined by the ARM would be relevant here. I think an actual proposed model is important for gaining support in the community. I do not think a blank cheque for a republic would gain public support. A successful modification to the Second Covering Clause could build momentum for a change into a republic.

3. Draft the proposed changes to the constitution


This would require a detailed definition of the method for selecting our head of state and the powers of the head of state. The relevant powers of the head of state are currently in Section 59, and this may need to be modified with a “Bee-sting” clause to limit the power of the head of state. The method for electing the head of state would have to be defined and added as a potential new section to the Constitution. Again, some of the proposed ARM processes are relevant at this stage.

4. Hold a referendum on the proposed changes


The referendum to change the constitution would, minimally, be to modify Section 59 as the definition of the power of the head of state, and to add a new Section 129 to define the process for electing an Australian President to replace the Queen in our constitution as our head of state.

Because of the requirement to pass a referendum with an overall majority and with a majority of states, the election process will need to appeal to the less populous states. That is one reason for limiting the election for the Australian Presidency to one state at a time and then having a round-robin rotation around the states for the Presidency. The states would each effectively have an equal share of time in the Presidency. (There are other reasons for a state-based election for the Presidency, which will be elaborated on in another article.)

5. Set a day for the change into a republic


If the referendum to amend Section 59 and add Section 129 is won, then Australia will still need to have the consent of all the other Commonwealth realms to replace the Queen with periodically elected Australians – as the “successors” to the Queen in the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Australian States and territories – before we can have our own head of state. The newly added Section 129 would not take effect until the other 15 Commonwealth realms consent to this change. This consent would need to be formally provided during a CHOGM meeting. If the referendum to have our own head of state is won, then the other Commonwealth realms cannot really oppose our demonstrated wish for sovereignty.

Once consent to change the succession for the Australian Crown has been formally recorded at CHOGM, a date could then be set for the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Australian States and territories to be transferred from the monarch to the first elected Australian President. This would be done symbolically with a gift of a Crown from the monarch to the Australian Presidency.

6. Australia becomes a republic with an elected head of state


Finally, at the specified date and time, the monarch who is the Queen or King of Australia will allow the Australian Crown to be transferred to the first elected Australian President in a formal ceremony to mark the full independence of the Commonwealth of Australia.


7. Succession of the Australian Crown as a democratic process


Once the Australian Crown has been transferred from the monarch to an elected President, the succession for the Australian Crown can only be under the democratic rules and processes specified in the new Section 129 of the constitution. Australia will not have a monarchy for the Australian Crown. Australians will follow a democratic procedure for electing our head of state. The physical Australian Crown might only make an appearance during ceremonies to inaugurate a newly elected Australian President. Apart from the historical quirk of a democratic Crown, Australia will look like a republic, operate as a republic, and have the style of a republic.

The Australian President would only have the power defined in the amended Section 59, while we would still continue to have a Governor-General and the State Governors as the representatives of the President for the Federal and State Parliaments respectively. The Governor-General and State Governors would still have the reserve powers. The Governor-General would still be appointed by the head of state on the advice of the Prime Minister. The elected President in this model would not have the power to dismiss the Prime Minister as in 1975.

Conclusion


This article contains a brief outline of a process for Australia to replace the Queen with periodically elected Australians to serve as our head of state. This change is effected through redefining the “successors” to the Australian Crown so that the successors are selected through a democratic process of election. This approach would require changes to only two sections of the constitution: Section 59 to define the powers of the President and a new Section 129 to define the election process.

We would still keep the Governor-General in a republic as the representative of the elected President for the Federal Parliament.

This framework and model for a republic preserves the Australian Crown and the existing system of government into an Australian republic. It could be designed to gain the support of the less populous states and thus be more likely to win a referendum. Since this approach changes the succession to the Australian Crown into a democratic process, we would also need the formal consent of the other Commonwealth realms for these changes to take effect.

(Read other articles by Robert Vose explaining his ideas for an Australian Republic, by clicking here.)


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